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  • Turning a New Page on Education Policy

    The results of Tuesday’s election sent a clear message about the direction voters want the federal government to take. The recently released 2010 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll What Americans Said about the Public Schools is illustrative.

    Whether it’s paying the bills, setting standards, deciding what should be taught, or holding schools accountable, Americans believe state government is the responsible agency for public education in the United States.

    With a new batch of conservative leaders heading to Washington, the time is ripe to promote federalism in education, reduce spending, and empower parents with school choice. Incoming Members of Congress, including Senators Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Rand Paul (R–KY)—both of whom have vowed to limit the federal government’s role in education—will likely look toward more conservative solutions to reforming education.

    Americans made it clear that they want their problems solved locally, not by a distant and expensive Washington bureaucracy. Education is no exception. If Congress decides to undertake a reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act next year, that will provide an opportunity to significantly reduce bureaucracy and put more power in the hands of local leaders and parents.

    Jennifer Marshall, Director of Domestic Policy Studies at Heritage, pointed out on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal last week that Washington’s overreach into local education over the years has created “an accountability chain that is misdirected. So it politicizes the whole education project [and] directs everyone’s attention up to Washington, where it shouldn’t be. Because when that attention is taken off the local level, the student and the primary customers—the parents and taxpayers—it breaks down the whole incentive and accountability chain that once made American education great.” The bottom line is that solutions for local education will not be found in Washington.

    As a new Congress comes to Washington:

    First, expect efforts to rein in education spending. U.S. Department of Education funding has increased nearly fivefold in the 30 years since its creation, real per-pupil federal education expenditures have more than tripled since the 1960s, and the Obama Administration just inflated the DOE’s coffers by $100 billion through the “stimulus”—on top of the agency’s regular appropriations. As if that weren’t enough, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the entire House of Representatives back to Washington during their August recess to pass a $10 billion public education bailout.

    But more spending is not the answer. Massive increases over decades have failed to improve student outcomes. With conservative leaders pledging to cut spending in Washington, watch for new consideration of proposals to grant states flexibility and the freedom to target resources to their most vital education needs.

    Second, look for legislative efforts to restore federalism in education. The conservative alternative to No Child Left Behind—called the A-PLUS Act—will likely find more champions in the new Congress. The approach would allow a state to consolidate funding from among dozens of individual federal programs and spend it on state priorities in education. Allowing states freedom from federal red tape would likely produce more examples of policies that are successful in increasing academic achievement, like those seen in innovative states such as Florida.

    Florida is narrowing the achievement gap in a way federal education policy has failed to do for decades. Public school choice, private school choice, charter schools, virtual education, performance pay, alternative teacher certification, grading schools on an A–F scale, and putting an end to social promotion are all part of the Florida reform package that has contributed to important gains for students in the Sunshine State.

    Third, watch for renewed interest in the school choice solution. Congress can begin by restoring and expanding school choice options for children in the nation’s capital. The D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers of up to $7,500 for low-income children in the nation’s capital to attend a private school of their choice, has been a lifeline for local families. It has drawn strong support from current and new Members of Congress.

    The election results could mean big opportunities for genuine education reform that cuts bureaucracy, better targets and reduces spending, and empowers parents.

    Posted in Education [slideshow_deploy]

    3 Responses to Turning a New Page on Education Policy

    1. dannyroberts Phoenix says:

      It's clear now that most of the American people have a good idea of how corrupt our government has become over the years,our job now is to pay attention to what the politicians say and do, and hold them accountable.I know that the founders of this great nation ,if they could see our reaction to Obama and his misguided policies, they would smile and say there's still hope for America. Two more years of the worst President in the history of America and we can start to rebuild our faith in our government by hopefully choosing a person thats worthy of our respect, a real leader, a Comander and chief, not like this three dollar bill

      from Chicago.

    2. Robert Oliphant, Tho says:

      > > Dear Lindsey. . .. By way of support for you "come together" position, here's a short piece that will appear in Education News. . . . By way of underscoring the opposition to oracy, I might point out the the now successful "Poetry Out Loud" program encountered very strong opposition at first from state arts councils: this according to my cofrrespondence last year with both Steve Young (Poetry Foundation) and Dana Gioia…. Best… Bob Oliphant

      Oracy, Alzheimer?s, and Literacy as Candidates for Congressional Consensus

      By Robert Oliphant

      *****

      Apart from getting drunk at the same bar, the prospects for Congressional togetherness are today surely bleaker than ever before, enough so to invite consideration of legislative targets, however bizarre, that might evoke consensual support from both Republicans and Democrats.?? Here are three candidates that might get through the walls of anger and mistrust that now separate our leaders.

      Our most agreement-friendly target is that of improving our nation?s listening and speaking skills ? measurably so.? Sometimes lumped together as ?oracy,? these two skills are explicitly identified as major areas of concern, along with reading and writing, in the Common Core report, a multi-state document recently approved by President Obama.

      For Republicans the importance of improving oracy skills is trumpeted by the outsourcing use of Standard Worldwide American Dictionary-pronunciation English (SWADE), especially in tele-salesmanship.? Certainly any voter who asks for the geographical location of the voice at the other end of a trouble-shooting call (often morphing into a sales pitch) will be impressed by the SWADE-talk emanating now from cubicles in Manila, Calcutta, Shanghai, Seoul, etc..? ??

      What?s important here is that today?s low level of American oracy is an economic threat to us, not just an educational concern.? Judging from the resentment that Carly Fiorina?s outsourcing of Hewlett Packard jobs (including tele-marketing), some productive oracy legislation might well get near-unanimous support from both Republicans and Democrats ? surprisingly so and a major step forward.?????

      Our second agreement-friendly target, Alzheimer?s disease, now has over 50% of us worrying about it, according to a Harris poll. Even worse, the National Institute on Aging predicts more and more cases as more of us grow older and start going blank on proper names, ordinary words, and figurative expressions like ?the head of a procession? or ?two heads are better than one.?

      Right now we can take comfort in the terminological shift of ?Alzheimer?s? to ?senile dementia,? along with recently legislated equal support status for both mental health and physical health programs.? Overall, though, the probability of achieving consensus on an anti-Alzheimer?s program is rather low.? If researchers disagree, after all, how can we expect legislators to reach consensus on where to spend the taxpayers? money?

      Our third target, the improvement of reading and writing skills, has a high level of first-impression attractiveness ? is there any American legislator who would vote against literacy?? But the measurement of those skills, apart from the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, has been and continues to be a legislative nightmare.?

      As far as measurement science (metrology) goes, dictionary-based authoritative calibration of measurement standards offers some hope, especially to supporters of W. Edwards Deming and ISO 9,000.? But the sheer magnitude of special interestedness would probably crush any legislative coalition, however well intentioned and eloquently prosecuted.

      Practically considered, then, a consensus bill centering upon the measurable improvement of American oracy may not seem like much.? But it would certainly be an impressive start, along with signaling the voters that our legislators will be able in time to imagine and implement other consensual measures.?

      Certainly the possibility of reaching consensus has always been a tribute to the American legislative process and its noble practitioners like Franklin and Clay, enough so that each of us ? bruised by the election or not ? should wish our Congress well as it faces up to the future and its endless debates.??????????

      *****

    3. Robert V. Rose, MD ( says:

      WSJ ARTICLE OF OCT 5 DESCRIBES KEY TO EDUCATION REFORM:

      This article appeared on-line on Oct 5, 2010. The URL for the article is

      online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704631

      How Handwriting Trains the Brain

      Forming Letters Is Key to Learning, Memory, Ideas

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      By GWENDOLYN BOUNDS

      Ask preschooler Zane Pike to write his name or the alphabet, then watch this 4-year-old's stubborn side kick in. He spurns practice at school and tosses aside workbooks at home. But Angie Pike, Zane's mom, persists, believing that handwriting is a building block to learning.

      Wendy Bounds discusses the fading art of handwriting, pointing out that new research shows it can benefit children's motor skills and their ability to compose ideas and achieve goals throughout life.

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      Audio

      Gwendolyn Bounds reports on what your handwriting says about your brain and everything else.

      She's right. Using advanced tools such as magnetic resonance imaging, researchers are finding that writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.

      It's not just children who benefit. Adults studying new symbols, such as Chinese characters, might enhance recognition by writing the characters by hand, researchers say. Some physicians say handwriting could be a good cognitive exercise for baby boomers working to keep their minds sharp as they age.

      Studies suggest there's real value in learning and maintaining this ancient skill, even as we increasingly communicate electronically via keyboards big and small. Indeed, technology often gets blamed for handwriting's demise. But in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice.

      View Full Image

      Angie Pike

      Four-year-old Zane Pike used to toss aside his handwriting books. Now, the Cabot, Ark., preschooler is learning to write his letters using a smartphone application.

      Most schools still include conventional handwriting instruction in their primary-grade curriculum, but today that amounts to just over an hour a week, according to Zaner-Bloser Inc., one of the nation's largest handwriting-curriculum publishers. Even at institutions that make it a strong priority, such as the private Brearley School in New York City, "some parents say, 'I can't believe you are wasting a minute on this,'" says Linda Boldt, the school's head of learning skills.

      Recent research illustrates how writing by hand engages the brain in learning. During one study at Indiana University published this year, researchers invited children to man a "spaceship," actually an MRI machine using a specialized scan called "functional" MRI that spots neural activity in the brain. The kids were shown letters before and after receiving different letter-learning instruction. In children who had practiced printing by hand, the neural activity was far more enhanced and "adult-like" than in those who had simply looked at letters.

      "It seems there is something really important about manually manipulating and drawing out two-dimensional things we see all the time," says Karin Harman James, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Indiana University who led the study.

      More

      The Juggle: In Digital Age, Does Handwriting Still Matter?

      Adults may benefit similarly when learning a new graphically different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry, Dr. James says. For instance, in a 2008 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, adults were asked to distinguish between new characters and a mirror image of them after producing the characters using pen-and-paper writing and a computer keyboard. The result: For those writing by hand, there was stronger and longer-lasting recognition of the characters' proper orientation, suggesting that the specific movements memorized when learning how to write aided the visual identification of graphic shapes.

      Other research highlights the hand's unique relationship with the brain when it comes to composing thoughts and ideas. Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, says handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key.

      She says pictures of the brain have illustrated that sequential finger movements activated massive regions involved in thinking, language and working memory—the system for temporarily storing and managing information.

      And one recent study of hers demonstrated that in grades two, four and six, children wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

      View Full Image

      AJ Mast for the Wall Street Journal

      For research at Indiana University, children undergo specialized MRI brain scans that spot neurological activity.

      Even in the digital age, people remain enthralled by handwriting for myriad reasons—the intimacy implied by a loved one's script, or what the slant and shape of letters might reveal about personality. During actress Lindsay Lohan's probation violation court appearance this summer, a swarm of handwriting experts proffered analysis of her blocky courtroom scribbling. "Projecting a false image" and "crossing boundaries," concluded two on celebrity news and entertainment site hollywoodlife.com. Beyond identifying personality traits through handwriting, called graphology, some doctors treating neurological disorders say handwriting can be an early diagnostic tool.

      "Some patients bring in journals from the years, and you can see dramatic change from when they were 55 and doing fine and now at 70," says P. Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist at Duke University. "As more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise."

      In high schools, where laptops are increasingly used, handwriting still matters. In the essay section of SAT college-entrance exams, scorers unable to read a student's writing can assign that portion an "illegible" score of 0.

      Even legible handwriting that's messy can have its own ramifications, says Steve Graham, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. He cites several studies indicating that good handwriting can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th. "There is a reader effect that is insidious," Dr. Graham says. "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting."

      Handwriting-curriculum creators say they're seeing renewed interest among parents looking to hone older children's skills—or even their own penmanship. Nan Barchowsky, who developed the Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting method to ease transition from print-script to joined cursive letters, says she's sold more than 1,500 copies of "Fix It … Write" in the past year.

      Some high-tech allies also are giving the practice an unexpected boost through hand-held gadgets like smartphones and tablets. Dan Feather, a graphic designer and computer consultant in Nashville, Tenn., says he's "never adapted well to the keypads on little devices." Instead, he uses a $3.99 application called "WritePad" on his iPhone. It accepts handwriting input with a finger or stylus, then converts it to text for email, documents or Twitter updates.

      And apps are helping Zane Pike—the 4-year-old who refused to practice his letters. The Cabot, Ark., boy won't put down his mom's iPhone, where she's downloaded a $1.99 app called "abc PocketPhonics." The program instructs Zane to draw letters with his finger or a stylus; correct movements earn him cheering pencils.

      Indiana University

      In children who had practiced writing by hand, the scans showed heightened brain activity in a key area, circled on the image at right, indicating learning took place.

      "He thinks it's a game," says Angie Pike.

      Similarly, kindergartners at Harford Day School in Bel Air, Md., are taught to write on paper but recently also began tracing letter shapes on the screen of an iPad using a handwriting app.

      "Children will be using technology unlike I did, and it's important for teachers to be familiar with it," says Kay Crocker, the school's lead kindergarten teacher. Regardless of the input method, she says, "You still need to be able to write, and someone needs to be able to read it."

      Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at wendy.bounds@wsj.com

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